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April 14, 2005

MIDDLE EAST: 'DISAGREEMENTS' EVIDENT IN BUSH-SHARON MEETING

KEY FINDINGS

** Bush and Sharon are becoming "increasingly divided."

** Both leaders "agree to disagree" on West Bank settlement expansion.

** U.S. and Israel hope the peace process "will become easier" after Gaza withdrawal.

** Outlets fear Mideast "peace momentum" is "slipping away."

MAJOR THEMES

A disagreement 'couldn't be more clear'--Relations between Sharon and Bush have "gone sour," but both leaders benefited from their disagreement, because Sharon can claim "that he isn't the Americans' yes-man" and Bush can show "that he isn't in Sharon's pocket" according to Israel's left-leaning Ha'aretz. Another Israeli outlet judged that Sharon left Texas with "a certain sense of aloneness." Euro papers agreed that "talks didn't go as well as had been hoped."They saw the two leaders becoming "increasingly divided" and pointed out that Bush "really criticized Sharon." The West Bank's independent Al-Ayyam, however, said Bush's criticism was only an attempt to "buy time" and "appease the Palestinians."

Issue of settlement expansion 'is not over'-- Euro and Asian dailies insisted "the settlement issue must not be allowed to stop" the roadmap.Italy's centrist La Stampa concluded that both men "agreed to disagree" over the freezing of settlements, while Israeli papers noted that Bush did not "dance with joy" when Sharon spoke of maintaining settlement blocs.A French writer suggested Sharon would eventually stop settlement construction because Israel is relying on America to "finance" the pullback from Gaza, but liberal Euro papers stressed that Sharon "actually refused" to stop expansion in the West Bank.

Sharon received 'strongest support' on Gaza pullout--Israeli papers saw "sweeping support for disengagement" in the Bush administration; pluralist Maariv argued "the United States currently is interested in three things:disengagement, disengagement and disengagement." A West Bank outlet dismissed the Gaza withdrawal because Bush supposedly ignored the fact "that the entire West Bank, including Jerusalem, is occupied land."Spain's centrist La Vanguardia predicted Bush and Sharon would "continue down the same road" because both men believe the withdrawal from Gaza will result in "a political agreement with the Palestinians."

Region could 'face a spate of violence'--Papers feared a collapse of negotiations could cause a third infitada, which "would bury all hopes in the Mideast." The West Bank's independent Al Quds argued "the Israeli government has not kept the promises it gave" even though "Palestinians have done their best to achieve calm." Saudi Arabia's moderate Al-Watan asserted that the U.S.' pro-Israel bias has made the creation of a Palestine state "impossible."Conversely, moderate and conservative Israeli papers blasted the White House's "refusal" to recognize Sharon's compromises. Euro outlets also condemned the PA's "uncertainties toward terrorism," noting that Abbas "has barely achieved anything" against extremists.

Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, rmrmail@state.gov

EDITOR: David Meyers

EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 73 reports from 21 countries over 10 - 14 April, 2005.Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.

MIDDLE EAST

ISRAEL: "Conclusions"

Efraim Ganor wrote in popular, pluralist Russian-language Novosty Nedely (4/14): "All that can be done was done in order to create an exceptionally friendly atmosphere [at the Bush-Sharon meeting]. Despite the...pastoral environment, it was impossible to overlook the discrepancies between the two leaders' [positions], which appeared at the meeting....It is unlikely that these discrepancies will have a serious influence on the relations between Bush and Sharon, but one shouldn't underestimate them either.... Sharon was trying to convince the President that the Palestinian leader was not fulfilling the obligations he took upon himself and hasn't done anything to eradicate terror organizations.... President Bush...believes that straight after the [Gaza] disengagement, it will be possible to begin implementing the road map....The conclusion is simple: after the first disengagement, other disengagements will follow."

"The Borders Were Marked In Texas"

Left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz editorialized (4/13):"In Texas on Monday, George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon marked out the furthest borders that any Israeli prime minister can dream of.... It's doubtful Israel will ever find a friendlier president than Bush, and one more combative toward its enemies.... From Bush's statement it is clear that there is a connection between tactic and strategy in American policy. The final goal is to achieve an agreement between the sides, and movement toward that goal will proceed according to the road map. Israel's first step is evacuating Gaza and the northern Samaria area.The first Palestinian step is a constant, thorough and effective campaign against terror. Bush dictated to Sharon some commandments of the 'thou shalt not' variety: do not expand settlements, do not leave the outposts in place and do not beef up existing settlements."

"Bush Is From Mars, Sharon Is From Venus"

Diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote from Texas in left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (4/13):"It is difficult to describe a pair more different from one another than George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon....The invitation to Sharon to visit Bush's estate was meant to appear to be the peak of their closeness and intimacy....But despite the good intentions, the results only emphasized and highlighted the basic difference between the two leaders.... That gap is worrisome. Either Sharon does not plan to reach 'the day after,' or he expects the world to wait on the sidelines 'until the Palestinians become Finns,' without any demands of Israel to progress. That trick worked in the days of Yasser Arafat. It is difficult to repeat with Mahmoud Abbas, an American favorite. They regard him as the last Palestinian with whom they can work, and therefore it is important he succeed. Sharon found it difficult to say what he could do to help strengthen the Palestinian chairman. It raises the question of why Sharon even bothered to make the trip all the way to Crawford. What did he expect to achieve there? He did not resolve the dispute with the administration over the construction in the settlement blocs, he only sharpened it. He did not strengthen the Bush promise from last year, about the blocs being annexed to Israel in the future. His demand that the road map be postponed until terror is uprooted was not accepted.Nonetheless, maybe it was good he went to Texas, just to hear from the horse's mouth where Bush wants to go, and thus learn how deep the differences run between them.Bush is from Mars, Sharon is from Venus."

"Disputed Visit"

Orli Azulay-Katz opined in mass-circulation, pluralist Yedi'ot Aharonot (4/13): "Sharon understood full well what the president said (three times) during the press conference in the ranch. He demanded sharply and clearly from the Israeli government not to expand the settlements. Sharon stood at his side and emphasized that he seeks to establish territorial contiguity between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem. This was not the only disputed issue during the meeting in Texas: Sharon tried to sell Abu Mazen to Bush as the bad boy of the Middle East. Bush was not buying it.... The third dispute touched on the implementation of the road map: Bush sees the disengagement from Gaza as the beginning of the implementation of the road map, and demands that Sharon move on to the next stage after the implementation of disengagement. Sharon is opposed.... Above all, the U.S. President made it clear that friendship is important. The problem is that Bush's current interest is to show the Arab world and Europe that he is not in Sharon's pocket."

"Welcome Back"

Veteran op-ed writer opined in the lead editorial of mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (4/13): "In the Prime Minister's Office jargon, Sharon's recent U.S. visit is described as 'a maintenance trip.' Both Jerusalem and Washington need a few meetings each year to 'refuel' their relations, update, and consult each other. The price of that is, sometimes, presenting the disagreements, as indeed happened in Texas two days ago. There is nothing special in the fact that Sharon was invited to Bush's private ranch. Reports on a wonderful friendship in the wake of this private invite were exaggerated.More than it shows friendliness, it reflects the President's healthy way of life: this is a time to rest before the upcoming summer vacation.... Judging from remarks made in Texas, Bush did not dance with joy when he heard Sharon speak of 'settlement blocs' and personally did not repeat this definition, which Sharon deems important.... But perhaps the fact that the settlements and the disengagement plan were in the limelight was meant to distract attention from the real issue discussed on the Texas prairies: the Iranian nuclear threat. This is the real issue that should be on the world's agenda....Far-sighted leaders must start thinking what to do, and do it."

"Sharon's Charm Lost Some Of Its Luster"

Aluf Benn wrote from Texas in left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (4/12): "The tremendous effort invested in flying the prime minister here, in staging a fabulous photo op and in tedious preparatory talks by aides, was overshadowed by arguments over construction in the settlements and the way to get the peace process moving after the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria....Although he exchanged buddy jokes with Bush, the feeling was that Sharon's charm lost some of its luster during Bush's second term, that things have gone sour, that the bastards changed the rules. Traveling to the ranch, Sharon sounded harsh charges against Abu-Mazen, saying that the resumption of fire would be central in the meeting. Yesterday it seemed the Americans were not enthusiastic with this message.... [Sharon's] message was clear: he is unable to make additional gestures or concessions. Still, it seemed neither Sharon nor Bush had much to lose by displaying their disagreement. Sharon can show his rivals in the Likud that he isn't the Americans' yes-man; Bush can show his European and Arab friends that he isn't in Sharon's pocket.From Sharon's standpoint, Bush's most important message perhaps was his expectation 'to work with the prime minister in the years to come.' That's an intriguing signal ahead of the Likud primaries and elections expected in Israel."

"American Test"

Senior diplomatic correspondent Ben Caspit wrote in popular, pluralist Maariv (4/12): "The message inherent in the president's statements was clear and precise:the United States currently is interested in three things: disengagement, disengagement and disengagement. It turns out that the Americans built a special model, a 'Gaza pilot,' in which what is actually a mini-Palestinian state is supposed to be established in the Gaza Strip. The success of this project will have repercussions for the future phases of the process....If the Gaza project is successful, and if a successful, independent, peace-seeking entity is formed there, even Sharon will be convinced, said Bush, that we can proceed. By saying that he hinted that there was no certainty that the Americans would continue to back Sharon in the future on his insistence that all the security clauses of the road map must be carried out in full.[Sharon] left the Lone Star State with a certain sense of aloneness. The difficult task is still before him."

"Bush On Disengagement: Gosh, That Sounds Logical"

Senior diplomatic correspondent Shimon Shiffer wrote from Texas in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (4/12):"Sharon emerged from the meeting with Bush in one piece--if we might understate matters.In all the press conferences, the president focused on one issue: sweeping support for disengagement.... While Bush did speak about Israel's obligation to refrain from construction in the settlements, he did not respond when Sharon said in his presence that in any future arrangement with the Palestinians the major settlement blocs (including Maale Adumim) will remain in Israeli possession.Sharon's statements at Crawford constitute the first steps in drawing Israel's permanent borders.For the time being he is doing so with the Americans' hesitant consent. One might assume that after another visit or two with Bush, after it becomes evident that perhaps there is no Palestinian partner, the Americans might just come to support Sharon's approach to Israel's future borders."

"Bush Speaks His Mind"

Washington-based correspondent Nathan Guttman wrote in left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (4/12):"Bush...still believes that America cannot afford to get in over its head when it comes to the finer details of the conflict, and is still not enamored with the idea of U.S. mediators in the region. But he is certainly giving his all on a number of fundamental issues of the conflict.Bush is no less a friend of Israel after the meeting with Sharon than he was before the joint news conference.He still supports Sharon and the pullout plan, but he made it clear yesterday that this friendship has a limit, and that he won't stand idly by when he hears talk of territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, or that the large settlement blocs will be part of the State of Israel, 'for all that this signifies.'"

"Smiles And Disagreements"

Orly Azulai Katz opined in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (4/12): "People in Israel hoped that the matter of...settlements would be pushed aside in order not to cloud the meeting.... But the subject came up in the meeting and remained controversial.... This was not the only disagreement. Sharon believed that he would be able to present Abu Mazen as the bad boy of the region, the 'rais' [late PA chairman Yasser Arafat] who let them down and was not doing a thing against terrorism.It did not work.Bush told Sharon clearly:Israel has a partner now, and it must cooperate with it. Unlike Sharon, Bush also believes that after the evacuation of Gaza, trust will be created between the two sides, which will allow continued, persistent political negotiations."

"Sharon Gets The Ranch Treatment"

The conservative Jerusalem Post editorialized (4/12):"Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's first visit to U.S. President George W. Bush's ranch was picturesque, as expected, but the diplomatic picture was of two leaders dancing around areas of disagreement....[Their] statements can be seen as a classic example of those who agree to disagree, or put in a slightly more positive sense, of constructive ambiguity.... The problem is that the White House continues to refuse to recognize that the leeway Sharon has taken saved the road map and is a package deal.By committing to dismantling settlements long before final-status talks, Sharon went far beyond the road map's obligations. But to do this Sharon must also, he has once again made clear, take leeway in the other direction, namely solidifying Israeli control over the settlement blocs.The continued White House refusal to even tacitly recognize such a bargain creates a tension that is harmful not just to Israel's interests, but to U.S. policy. It does not build U.S. credibility with the Palestinian side; it only serves to distract from the pressure that must be exerted to force Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas to take real steps to dismantle terrorist groups.... The other tension that should be resolved is over how to 'help' Abbas. It seems that neither Sharon nor Bush is willing to use the real leverage that the international community has to force Abbas's hand, namely withholding further financial and diplomatic support pending his using the ample forces under his command to take concrete actions.Instead, what we see from the PA leadership is a continuation of the Arafat-style tactics of denying responsibility and claiming weakness."

"Settlement Freeze Vs. Settlements Please"

Nathan Gutman opined in left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz (4/11): "Bush is not looking for a crisis with Sharon. Israeli officials correctly diagnosed the main purpose of the meeting:to help Sharon execute the disengagement and to encourage him to cooperate with the Palestinians.Thus, Bush is careful with his criticism.... The administration does not expect to solve the settlement issue today. From that perspective, indeed, the issue is raised for the protocol, but the fact that the U.S. constantly reiterates its criticism is an important message for Israel. That message is that despite the support for disengagement and the April 14, 2004 letter from Bush to Sharon, the issue of the settlement construction is not over and the settlement freeze is still a matter of contention.It might not be something either side wants to fight over right now, but it is certainly on the agenda and is waiting for the day after the departure from Gaza."

"Another Chapter Of Tiresome Bickering"

Aluf Benn wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (4/11l):"Sharon's visit was planned as a public relations exercise, as a show of support on the part of President George W. Bush for the prime minister and his disengagement plan.There isn't much personal chemistry between Sharon and Bush, but they need one another.... The Americans wanted to urge Sharon to make more gestures to strengthen Abbas; the Israeli side wants to speak to the Americans about scenarios to deal with Abbas' expected downfall.... And so it appears that Sharon's festive visit with Bush will become yet another chapter in the tiresome bickering and infinite search for the culprits in the breakdown of the process."

"The Focus, According to Bush"

Left-leaning, independent Ha'aretz editorialized (4/10): "No bitter surprises are believed to await Sharon in Crawford.... The Americans are now working on two parallel tracks.The Palestinians are being required, at the direction of General William Ward, to unify their security services and reform their administration. From Sharon, 'the father of the settlements' in the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the demand is simple: translate words into deeds, and see to it that in the summer of 2005 not one Israeli, soldier or settler, remains in Gaza. That is the focus. All the rest--outposts, Ma'aleh Adumim, construction in population centers--is outside the scope of the lens. Bush is right in his approach. Presidents who believed they had accomplished a great deal with their demands found out they had actually accomplished nothing.Although the evacuation from Gaza is less than all that is needed, it must first be assured that it happens."

"The Price Of Friendship"

Orli Azulay-Katz remarked in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (4/10): "With their declarations yesterday that construction in the territories will continue, Sharon and his cabinet members spoiled the festive mood....This is actually the reason why, when flying back from Rome to Texas, President Bush used no uncertain terms to disperse opacity and said he will unequivocally tell Sharon in private that which he had said in public: a total freeze of the settlements. When an American president is friendly, he expects something in return and will not settle for a vague declaration."

WEST BANK: "We Must Benefit From Changes In American Policy"

Mohammad Yaghi wrote in independent Al-Ayyam (4/14):"We can take advantage of the newest changes in American policy if we know how to distinguish between it [American policy] and the Israeli one. The differences between the two were obvious during Sharon's latest visit to Bush in Crawford, Texas. [Sharon] paved the way for his visit by talking about a climate of civil war in Israel, hoping to get support for the settlement policy he is trying to establish in the West Bank under the pretext that it makes his Gaza withdrawal easier.This policy meets his second objective [which is to convince the U.S.] that...Mahmoud Abbas, in whom Israel 'had had high hopes,' is incapable of fulfilling his commitments, and thus Israel has no other choice but to continue its unilateral disengagement policy, first in Gaza and then in the West Bank. However, Sharon was faced with an American position contrary to what he wants.It was said clearly that Abbas is a partner whose ability to fulfill commitments has the confidence of the American administration.... Exaggerating the issue of American assurances to Israel...might distract [us] from positive changes in the American policy toward our cause.... Understanding such changes is an important way to benefit from them. Otherwise, we'll fall back on the same old cold war concepts, leading to a lack of differentiation between Israel and the U.S. and a big risk of missing the opportunity that now appears possible for emancipation from occupation."

"Is History Repeating Itself?"

Independent Al-Quds editorialized (4/14):"The Israeli government and its media, which are in contact with decision-making circles in the U.S., are launching a dangerous and malicious campaign against the PA and its president, aiming at convincing the American administration that history is repeating itself and that President Abbas is about to become what they describe as an 'unqualified partner.' The Israeli goals of this campaign are clear and are related to the Roadmap obligations following the Gaza evacuation, i.e. the steps Israel must take to carry out a military and settlement withdrawal from the West Bank.... Evaluating the effectiveness of this Israeli media campaign depends on the results of the meeting that is supposed to take place between the American President and President Abbas."

"Bush And The Cruel Realization"

Independent Al-Quds editorialized (4/13):"Despite the relatively good aspects of President Bush's remarks to the press [during his meeting with PM Sharon], what he said in his speech diminished the positives: his sentence about the importance of Palestinian recognition of demographic facts regarding settlements was like a reward for the Israeli PM, who has been waiting to hear it so as to reaffirm the assurances Bush has given him last year. President Bush ignored [the fact] that the entire West Bank, including Jerusalem, is occupied land to which UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, calling on Israel to withdraw from all occupied land, apply.. He [Sharon] will use his host's emended sentence to add several thousand settlement outposts now that the American president has given him another green light to continue his one-sided policies that are contrary to a just peace and the legitimate rights of Palestinians."

Sharon-Bush: Taking Advantage Of The Disagreement"

Hani Habib opined in independent Al-Ayyam (4/13):"President Bush took Sharon's justifications into consideration, though he did not really need to do so to make his own position known. He reiterated his support for a final reconciliation that will accept the demographic realities Israel has imposed on the occupied [West] Bank. But Sharon did not miss the opportunity to...announce that no final reconciliation will take place without the settlement blocs' remaining as part of the Hebrew state.... Bush translated his vision by stating at the end of the meeting that the establishment of a Palestinian state capable of coexisting with Israel in Gaza following the disengagement will make it easier for Sharon to take additional steps in the West Bank. This statement supports Sharon's roadmap, which holds that the Gaza evacuation, carried out in a way that annexes the major West Bank settlements, especially in the Jerusalem area...is part of the Roadmap...."

"Bush-Sharon Meeting: Support To Israel, Words To Palestinians"

Hani Masri opined in independent Al-Ayyam (4/12):"Bush meets Sharon for the tenth time.This shows how their personal relationship has developed, and how during their terms in office the strategic relationship between America and Israel has deepened [and gone from] from a phase of strategic alliance and absolute U.S. support to Israel to absolute support for the right-wing policy represented by the Likud and its leader, Sharon.The few American remarks...in which Bush criticized Israeli plans to expand settlements...do not change this fact....I warn against exaggerating the importance of the American remarks so long as they come while Israel continues to expand settlements, build the wall and separate Jerusalem, and...[so long as] they are based on the Bush administration's ongoing adherence to the U.S. letter of assurances (the American Balfour Declaration) in which the one who does not own (Bush) gave to the one who doesn't deserve (Sharon)....The American remarks on halting settlement expansion and the implementation of the Roadmap, similar to those of Sharon, can only be a form of pulling the wool over [everyone's] eyes and an attempt to buy time and to appease the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Quartet with words alone, while Israel continues to impose its unilateral solution by the force of the occupation."

"Will Sharon Accept Bush's Demands?"

Independent Al-Quds editorialized (4/12):"The American president's remark [demanding that Sharon avoid any activity that contradicts the Roadmap] is supposed to be understood as a demand to freeze any settlement expansion whether in or outside settlements. It therefore contradicts the Israeli understanding of the American position:the belief that Bush has given the green light to expand major settlements.... Regarding Sharon's attempt to stir up discord among the PA and the American administration, it's better for Washington to set things right, bearing in mind that whereas the Israeli government has not kept the promises it gave following Mahmoud Abbas' election as PA President, the Palestinians have done their best to achieve calm and to provide the best atmosphere in which to resume the peace process."

"A First Step Toward A Coup"

Talal 'Ukal commented in independent Al-Ayyam (4/11):"While the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim publics, along with the media, were focused on Jerusalem and the crime Jewish extremists were threatening to commit against the Al-Haram al-Sharif, Sharon was getting ready to head to the U.S. on President Bush's invitation.Was Sharon confident that his police forces were qualified to prevent any harm to Al-Aqsa? Or was he confident that the criminal attack was not to take place on that particular day, but wanted to utilize the Jewish extremists' anger to reduce the American demands awaiting him?... Sharon, Washington's favorite guest...needed the events that he precipitated in order to convince his American host that his political rationale and plans, aimed at marketing the disengagement plan, are heroic and deserve support."

"Bloody Visits"

Hafiz Barghuthi maintained in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (4/11): "There had never been any visit by Sharon abroad, mainly to the U.S. ...without bloodshed preceding his departure, so that once he reaches his target an avenging action takes place and he uses it to howl and groan in order to avoid any potential pressures against him.... Such blood-soaked visits are no coincidence; rather they are planned, for a coincidence can happen only once but not seven times.... The events in Rafah are no different from assassinations that preceded previous Sharon visits to the American capital. What's even worse is that the killing of [three] boys in Rafah happened simultaneously with the [Jewish] extremists' attempt to break into Al-Aqsa mosque.It seems that there is a plan to blow everything up, including the period of calm.... A decisive American position is very much needed to stop Israel's fooling around with the agreement on a period of quiet."

"Between The Two Ranches"

Basim Abu Sumaya opined in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (4/11): "President Bush, who brags about his political transparency by saying that what he tells the public he also talks about in his personal meetings, must tell Sharon bluntly that settlement activity is a blatant violation of the sole political solution, known as the Roadmap, and that harming the Al-Aqsa mosque and the killing of three boys [in Rafah], who were letting of steam by playing near the Philadelphi corridor, is a violation that will put matter on a slippery slope toward military confrontation. Otherwise the American-Israeli meeting will be no more than a dialogue between two ranches."

SAUDI ARABIA: "Risks of 'Fait Accompli' Policy"

Abha's moderate Al-Watan editorialized (4/13):"The outcome of the last American/Israeli summit in Texas fulfilled Sharon's desires.Actually, it introduced American's unlimited support to Sharon's contradicted policy, which violates international legitimacy and harms the peace process. President Bush's remarks dedicated the Israeli "fait accompli" policy proceeded during the last half century. The American president has become deceived by Israeli political oration, which divide settlements into two categories: "legal" and "illegal". Americans used to consider settlements illegal.Now, they blindly follow this misguided division and they have begun to demand the removing of illegal settlements. The American administration has purposely ignored international law.... Consequently, the creation of the Palestine state has become impossible. This is a violation to international legitimacy and crime against humanity. It ignores Palestinians' right to determinate their fate. The continuing Israeli infringements on international legitimacy and "fait accompli" policy are big dangers. Especially that Israel receives support from the world dominant power, the U.S. This increases tension and aborts the peace process that the region's nation looking for."

"Test Of Credibility"

The English-language, pro-government Arab News editorialized (4/11): "A real test of President Bush's credibility will be when he meets Prime Minister Sharon today. Last year at this time, Bush went beyond the role of mediator and broker by ceding basic Palestinian rights and land directly to Israel. Naturally enough, Sharon is hoping for more such American generosity.Sharon's pledge to go ahead with the construction of 3,500 additional houses in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim--a move that will largely cut the West Bank off from eastern Arab Jerusalem and will thereby leave the Palestinians with a smaller state and a capital that will not be Jerusalem--is a direct challenge to Bush and the international community. The problem is that instead of Bush taking Sharon to task, Sharon will be feted because of the Gaza withdrawal in four months' time. Bush will simply not press too hard regarding Jewish settlements.The most he could do is to ask Sharon if he perhaps would kindly defer the Maale expansion plan until after the Gaza withdrawal.In that case, Sharon is likely to request something in return, a possible compensation package, including a green light from the Americans for Israel to build a smaller number of settlements elsewhere around Jerusalem. To be fair to the U.S. president, he has said the settlements will be tackled in today's talks and that the road map calls explicitly for a freeze on settlement activity. Today would be a good opportunity for Bush, who claims that what he says in private is exactly what he says in public, to spell out loudly and clearly that settlement building is illegal.... Sharon would like a reaffirmation of what Bush said in April last year:Israel will not be expected to give up large West Bank settlements in future peace deals. Sharon has since taken that line of support a step further with the Maale Adumim expansion. He knows the president's tone will not be one of disapproval."

"The Meeting Between Sharon And Bush"

Riyadh's moderate Al-Jazirah contended (4/10):"Although the U.S. pretends to be angry with Israeli policies about the expansion of settlements, the meeting between the two shall be a courtesy call. It is only for media use and has no effect on American nor Israeli polices....Israel is the one setting the policies in the occupied territories, while the U.S. provides legitimacy to Israeli actions.... The meeting will only highlight the Israeli withdrawal to show it as a real step towards peace.However, Bush and the others know that this withdrawal is only a trade against the expansion of settlements.It is not the first step in an exit form the occupied territories. The U.S. has given its blessing to withdrawal from Gaza and approved retaining of major settlements in the Wet Bank.... So the meeting between Sharon and Bush is just a farce!"

"Sharon's Visit And Threatening Jerusalem"

Jeddah's moderate Okaz argued (4/10):"Israel realizes that the Palestinian commitment to the Sharm Al-Sheikh summit resolutions restricts its provocative policies and opens doors for implementing the Road Map....The only way for Israelis to rid themselves of their promises will be to aggravate the radical Israeli public to attack the Holy Aqsa Mosque. This attack will achieve the following gains for Israelis: pressure on Sharon to retreat from his commitments in response to Israeli public demands. Pressure the U.S. to stop holding Israel to the Sharm Al-Sheikh summit resolutions or the Road Map. Provoke the Palestinian public to violate the truce. The area will return to square one. It will enable Sharon to achieve new gains in his visit to Washington while he is free of his previous commitments."

"Targeting Al-Aqsa"

Jeddah's conservative Al-Madina observed (4/10):"Israeli threats released by radical Zionist groups to assault the Al-Aqsa Mosque are not new to us....Definitely, we cannot trust the Israeli statements about enhancing security around Al-Aqsa Mosque.Ironically, Zionist threats are increasing against Al-Aqsa, while the terrorist groups are expanding their destructive attacks. It does not seem that liberating Al-Aqsa is on their agenda. Therefore, Zionists groups are assured that the al-Qaida will hit anywhere but not at its bases."

QATAR: "Settlers' Threat Puts Sharon To The Test"

The semi-official, English-language Gulf Times had this to say (4/11): "Why would the Israeli army shoot and kill three Palestinian teenagers while they were playing football? The attack happened in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah and the killings were confirmed by the Israeli military, though it claimed the youths were running towards a military position. This was a deliberate multiple murder and is likely to have been intended to send a message to Palestinians inside and outside Jerusalem's Arab sector, a day ahead of a planned protest by Zionist extremists who are threatening to storm the holy Muslim Al Aqsa Mosque compound.Al Aqsa, one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world, has already been used by Israelis to trigger violence with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site as a deliberate provocation, sparking the 'Al Aqsa' Intifada which toppled his predecessor and brought him to power....The Israeli government, which benefited from the truce without making any concessions, has been taking advantage of events to further its program of land seizures and settlement expansion.Today, it must live up to its assurance that the militants will not be allowed to invade the mosque compound.If they are, it will be calamitous....Israel has ample experience of quelling protests. If it allows the settlers to carry out their threat it will be because Sharon's government wants the cease-fire to end. It was, after all, a truce he was trapped into agreeing because of his own propaganda about the late Yasser Arafat being the only obstacle to peace. When Arafat died, he was deprived of his excuse for attempting to crush the Palestinians."

SYRIA: "Shalom's Map"

Izzeddin Darwish observed in government-owned Tishreen (4/14): "Israeli FM Shallom, who came with a theory saying that ten Arab countries will establish relations with Israel, seeks a new roadmap that targeting normalization between Israel and Arab countries.... A roadmap for normalization is needed urgently! Isn't this maximum provocation, challenge, arrogance and disregard for others' feelings?! Israel didn't withdraw from the occupied Arab lands. Just and comprehensive peace hasn't yet been achieved. Israel gives no damn to international law, or to the old Roadmap. Instead of making contacts with Israel, Arabs should tighten boycott of Israel to the upper limit. There is no single reason requiring Arabs to establish relations with Israel. Certainly it is vice versa. Tightening boycott of Israel is safer, more useful less dangerous for Arabs."

"Legislation And Ambiguity Of Interpretation"

Ali Qasem asserted in government-owned Al-Thawra (4/14): "President Bush allowed Israel to maintain some major settlements in the West Bank....It is difficult to say that President Bush didn't realize the consequences of this dangerous and unprecedented legislation. He gives promises on something he is not entitled to give promises on. Something he has no right to handle. This is a prelude for an exaggerated US vision on rights and constants. The danger that jeopardizes these rights has materialized. No one can ignore it. The US legislation will be a ready-made pretext that Sharon will depend on to prove that he is dealing with the US text in a good way."

UAE: "Give Peace A Chance"

The expatriate-oriented, English-language Khaleej Times held (4/11): "The flare-up of tensions in Jerusalem yesterday following the attempts by some Jewish extremist groups to march on to Al Aqsa mosque and Haram al Sharif underscores the fleeting nature of peace in the Middle East. Israeli hard-line groups are evidently trying hard to derail the peace process by provoking Palestinian militants into retaliatory action....As thousands of Palestinians marched towards the Al Aqsa, it appeared as though the short spell of peace--a welcome result of the extraordinary handshake between Abbas and Sharon at Sharm el Sheik--had met its premature death. The Palestinians have been agitated by the Jewish groups' designs on Al Aqsa, the most potent symbol of their struggle. The killing of three Palestinian youths by Israeli forces on Saturday further fueled their anger. The Israeli police have, however, managed to thwart the extremists' bid to target the holy mosque for now and thus prevent a disaster of epic proportions.Consequences of such an extremist adventure are too horrifying to imagine.... The hard-liners have hinted that Sunday's show was a test run for the withdrawal in the summer, when security forces will be employed to evacuate settlers from 25 settlements in Gaza.Extremists hope to keep troops busy in Jerusalem, and thus sabotage the pullout. We would like to hope that Sharon will be able to rein in the extremists as they are his responsibility.... Besides, the Israeli PM's very political survival depends on the pullout having completely committed himself to the initiative.For their part, the Palestinians must exercise utmost restraint and should not present any opportunity or excuse to Israeli hawks to break the cease-fire and sabotage the Gaza withdrawal.The best thing to do is to let Abu Mazen do his job and handle the situation as he deems best.The media must desist the temptation to play on the inflamed passions and highlight the real challenges facing the Palestinians. The Palestinians must keep their cool in the face of all attempts to provoke them and must not play into the hands of hard-liners providing an excuse to abandon the roadmap because this is what Israel wants. Palestinians must do everything possible to keep the peace process alive."

EUROPE

BRITAIN: "Giving Ground"

The left-of-center Guardian editorialized (4/12):"Mr. Sharon had hoped to rely on more nods, winks and ambiguities from Mr. Bush--and the assumption that big settlements near the old 'green line' could stay put in a future peace deal. That may turn out to be the case, but he should not try to prejudge the issue in the time-honored Zionist tradition of creating facts on the ground. If he does, there will be no two-state solution at all.The U.S. president must recognize that fundamental truth--and act decisively on it."

"Pushing For Peace"

The independent Financial Times commented (4/11):"If Washington is serious about advancing peace, Mr. Sharon should be told to return to the negotiating table after the Gaza pull-out and immediately to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.... The road map...demands that Israel freeze all settlement activity....But American policy on settlements has been ambiguous, if not outright unhelpful. Last week, the administration rightly criticized Israeli plans to add 3,500 new homes to a settlement near Jerusalem. But it has acquiesced to the continued construction of houses within settlement boundaries. It is time for the U.S. to adopt a consistent and tough line on settlements."

FRANCE: "Bush Concerned About New Settlements"

Philippe Gelie commented in right-of-center Le Figaro (4/12): "Last year, the Israeli prime minister left Washington with his pockets full, having received not only the president's approval for his withdrawal plans from Gaza, but also written 'guarantees' regarding a global settlement. Since then a misunderstanding persists in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. What Sharon sees as a unilateral solution, is for President Bush a first step that can put the peace process back on track. Yesterday's talks may not be enough to clarify this ambiguity."

"Bush, Sharon...And Europe"

Jules Clauwaert observed in regional Nord clair (4/12): "Is George W. Bush finally convinced that a peace agreement in the Middle East must be comprehensive, and that it rests on an equitable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict? By receiving Ariel Sharon at his Texas ranch, an honor and familiarity reserved to those he considers the best friends of the U.S., one can imagine that Bush is putting 'friendly' pressure on his guest to persist in his decision to liberate (sic) the Gaza Strip, and to confirm his agreement on the coexistence of a viable Palestinian state."

"Sharon Calls On Bush For Rescue"

Serge Dumont wrote in regional La Voix du Nord (4/12): "According to members of his entourage, Ariel Sharon intends to profit from his tenth meeting with George W. Bush, who is receiving him at his ranch in Texas, to ask him to become more involved in Israeli-Palestinian relations....(Sharon) is letting things drag on, but he cant brush aside forever the 'friendly' suggestions of the American administration, especially since he also came to Texas to ask his allies to finance the cost of the retreat from Gaza as well as the resettlement of 8,000 colonists evacuated to inside the Jewish state. According to estimates, the cost will exceed 1.8 billion Euros two-thirds of which is expected to be paid by Washington."

GERMANY: "Moment Of Truth"

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff noted in center-left weekly Die Zeit of Hamburg (4/14): "To Sharon, the withdrawal from Gaza rather marks the end than the beginning of making concessions. He told Israeli journalists that the reason for the pullout is to avoid an agreement that forces Israel to leave most of the West Bank. Sharon's most important member of staff, Dov Weissglass, explicitly said that the meaning of the withdrawal is to freeze the peace process.George Bush knows this strategy but he has been ignoring it for good reasons. The President does not want to endanger the pullout from Gaza and hopes that Sharon will be carried away later from the dynamic of the peace process.Bush said on Monday that the PM might change his mind after Gaza has become a success. Maybe, but until then Sharon's partner in the peace process, Palestinian President Abbas, needs help. He pushed through a truce and takes action against terrorists.In the parliamentary elections in July, he faces the opposition of Hamas radicals. Bush also needs Abbas if he wants to go down in history as the person who created peace and democracy in the Mideast. George Bush must soon decide what his legacy should be."

"Time Of Warning Shots"

Thorsten Schmitz commented in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (4/13): "U.S. President Bush used careful diplomatic words during PM Sharon's visit.He called upon Israel to halt the building of settlements in the West Bank; he referred to Israel's plan to build 3,500 housing units in order to connect the Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Maale Adumim, and the eastern part of Jerusalem. This would mean that the future Palestinian state would be built on a divided territory. But Bush's warning shot was followed by an assurance: Israel does not need to respect the armistice lines of 1949 and does not have to disengage larger settlements. The U.S. and Israel praised the road map to peace, but they ignored the fact that it requires a mutual agreement to solve the conflict.As expected, the Palestinians protested against the meeting in Texas and tried to divert the attention from their own problems. Palestinian terror groups retaliated for the deaths of three Palestinian youths caused by Israeli soldiers and fired hundreds of grenades against Israel.This fuels the suspicion that Hamas and Islamic Jihad misuse the informal truce to rearm and restructure their organizations. Palestinian President Abbas is handling terrorists with kid gloves. He must quickly take them off if he wants to stay in power and meet Bush in Washington at the end of April."

"Palestine"

Jacques Schuster observed in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (4/13): "In a few weeks, we will have forgotten the meeting between President Bush and PM Sharon.Looking back, their exchange of thoughts and the moderate warning that Sharon should stick to the road map and halt the expansion of settlements will appear like a grain of sand in the stream of events. The challenge is in the Middle Eats itself. The next months will be exciting and risky, as Sharon must push for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip against the resistance in his own camp. Only when this massive act is successful can we consider the next move. It is not the time for bold peace plans, given that Palestinians are not able to negotiate at the moment.. Abbas has problems:He is too weak to pacify extremists; he has barely achieved anything against them. Let's hope that he will realize his original intentions.Otherwise, the region will face a spate of violence."

"U.S. Hopes Everything Will Become Easier After The Withdrawal From The Gaza Strip"

Right-of-center Ostthringer Zeitung of Gera editorialized (4/13): "Bush knows that he is not able to stop Sharon at the end, but he can gain some time.Everything will become easier after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the U.S. hopes. Palestinians might realize that Israel is serious about returning occupied territories and the Gaza Strip could quickly become a model for a prospering Palestinian state. Washington believes it will then be possible to solve the settlement conflict on the whole. However, for the time being this is a calculation with unknown factors."

"Problems For The U.S. Engagement In The Middle East"

Right-of-center Thringische Landeszeitung of Weimar asserted (4/13): "U.S. President Bush wants to write history with a twofold strategy:Simultaneously, he backs Israeli PM Sharon and resolutely pushes for creating a Palestinian state. Without the latter, any Middle East strategy would fail. That is the reason why Bush supports Sharon's disengagement plan, but Israel has not yet abandoned its plan to separate the Arab east of Jerusalem and the West Bank by building thousands of housing units. This remains one of the great problems for the U.S. engagement in the Middle East."

"The Third Point"

Wolfgang Guenter Lerch commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (4/12): "After September 11, Bush installed a new regime in Kabul under Hamid Karzai--one which differs a great deal from the Taliban. Then, he toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, where a pluralistic regime is coming into being, despite all the problems and miscalculations.He will now work the third point on his agenda: the creation of a Palestinian state in coexistence with Israel. If he succeeds his reputation in the Arab world, which is at a low at the moment...would considerably increase.... But it would have been better if both had met earlier.The situation is currently getting more intense after weeks of relative peace. The unsolved death of three Palestinian youths has given Hamas, whose taming had been a difficult task for Abbas anyway, new excuses for military actions. In addition, radical Jewish settlers, who totally reject the disengagement plan, are stepping up their opposition. Thanks to the 3,000 Israeli security forces there have not yet been violent clashes between Muslims and Jews at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The outbreak of a third infitada would bury all hopes in the Mideast for decades."

"Visiting A Friend At His Ranch"

Martina Doering observed in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (4/12): "At first glance one cannot see the relation between the war in Iraq, the Saudi communal elections and the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Many Arabs say if President Bush really cares about democratizing and stabilizing the Middle East he should be a neutral broker in the conflict.To them, the U.S. attitude to the issue is the yardstick for the credibility of the American Mideast policy.U.S. President Bush invited Sharon to his ranch and really criticized him. Bush called upon him to take action against the illegal settlements in the West Bank and to put a stop to the building of new houses in Maale Adumim.Sharon agreed to do it, which suits both politicians. Bush shows commitment and Sharon sacrifices a plan that was probably drafted to be abandoned."

"At His Ranch"

Washington correspondent Wolfgang Koydl filed the following editorial in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (4/11):"An invitation to President Bush's ranch in Crawford is still one of the most prestigious rewards which the White House gives to an international leader. Seen from this angle, Israel's leader Ariel Sharon can feel flattered...but it is not clear whether the talks will be friendly. If we believe Bush, Sharon can expect some tough words....Basically, Bush is in a stronger position, for Sharon needs the unconditional support from Washington before he implements the controversial withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.In addition, Jerusalem hopes for financial assistance for the expensive Gaza enterprise....But even though Bush seems to have the better cards, the Israelis hope that the United States will again back Sharon.They point out that Washington has always backed Israel's right to keep larger settlements on the West Bank even after a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. Thus far, the White House has not given up this position.That is why the Palestinians are skeptically watching the upcoming Bush-Sharon meeting. They are afraid that Israel and the United States have secretly agreed on a deal which corresponds to Sharon's views and postpones the creation of a Palestinian state to never-never day. Palestinian Minister Dahlan already warned against a new intifada if hopes of his compatriots were again disappointed."

"Bush's Visitor"

Gemma Przgen had this to say in an editorial in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (4/11): "In the United States, Premier Sharon can present himself as the winner over the opponents to the withdrawal from Gaza.... Nevertheless, Washington is not likely to be satisfied with the most recent developments in the Mideast. In order to avoid any criticism of himself, Sharon will try to blame Palestinian President Abbas for the unstable cease-fire.... But it remains doubtful whether Sharon will be successful with such diversionary maneuvers this time. Abbas has also been invited to Washington at the end of April.Despite the dissatisfaction over the sluggish reform process in the Palestinian security apparatus, Abbas...continues to be seen as a beacon of hope in Washington. If Bush is really serious about a peace policy for the Middle East, he can only call upon Sharon...to intensify his support for Abbas.Only an end to Israel's obstructionist policy towards the Palestinians can lead to real progress."

ITALY: "The Road Map At The Ranch"

R.A. Segre commented in pro-government, leading center-right Il Giornale (4/13): "The eleventh meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush (a diplomatic record) and the first meeting between the two in the President's ranch was officially concluded as expected: much cordiality, but nothing new....Sharon denied tension with the U.S. Administration -- that certainly does not want to weaken him before the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip, but above all in the face of the Palestinian Authority's uncertainties toward terrorism."

"Bush Disappoints Sharon--Israeli Settlers Protest"

Arturo Zampaglione contended in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (4/13): "Ariel Sharon's collaborators tried to furnish a 'softer' interpretation of the divergence between Jerusalem and Washington. In his meeting with the Israeli Premier at his ranch in Crawford, Bush seemed to be very hard on his guest: 'I asked him not to undertake any initiative that might violate the Road Map or endanger the outcome of negotiations.' . It is hard for the Israelis to understand and accept the changes in the White House's Middle East policy. Bush had always been unyielding with Arafat, considering him an obstacle to peace, refusing to shake his hand, and in waiting for his death, giving practically unconditional support to Sharon. But Arafat's death and the election of Abu Mazen changed the scenario and imposed a tactical change on the White House. Now Bush aims at a constructive contribution on the part of Abu Mazen, and must therefore assume a more equidistant position between Israelis and Palestinians. Yesterday, for example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice immediately called Abu Mazen to inform him of the meetings between Bush and Sharon."

"Bush-Sharon Axis Is Deteriorating"

Alberto Flores D'Arcais commented in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (4/12): "Talks didn't go as well as had been hoped. AndIsraeli radio itself, through its Washington correspondent, broadcast: 'For the first time, since their relationship, we are facing a different Bush, less friendly, and it is possible that some disagreements are surfacing.' The American President had promised to ask Sharon to stop building new houses in Maale Adumim, and he stuck to his promise.... Not only did Sharon not commit himself, but he actually refused to do so. This project to expand Maale Adumim by about 3,500 new houses is considered vital for Israel....Apart from that clash over Maale Adumim, Sharon gained the White House's strongest support for his 'courageous initiative' to disengage from Gaza.... On his part, Sharon pleased the White House with regard to illegal settlements."

 

"Bush To Sharon: Stop To New Settlements, But Old Ones Remain"

Maurizio Molinari maintained in centrist, influential La Stampa (4/12): "'It is necessary to freeze all West Bank settlements.' U.S. President George W. Bush maintained his promise...by asking his guest for strict respect of the Road Map.... Next to him, Ariel Sharon didn't seem too disappointed by what he had just heard.... A disagreement between Bush and Sharon couldn't be more clear...but both leaders softened tone, agreed to disagree over the freezing of the settlements, aiming at underlining the point they share: succeeding in completing the Israeli plan for its disengagement from Gaza. Having in Israel a situation that he characterized as 'on the eve of a civil war,' Sharon obtained from Bush assurance over the final set-up of Israel's national borders. 'The new realities on the ground will remain part of Israel,' Bush said regarding the major Israeli settlements in the West Bank, thus reiterating that Israel will not have to withdraw to the borders of before 1967 war."

"Sharon Flies To George Bush's Ranch"

Ennio Caretto concluded in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (4/11): "Sharon...wants to return to Jerusalem strengthened by unconditional American support in the tug-of-war with the domestic opposition over withdrawal from Gaza.... Bush, instead, wants to obtain Sharon's commitment to respect the 'Road Map' and not to build new settlements in the occupied territories, facilitating the work of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The fact that Bush has invited Sharon to Crawford, an honor usually reserved for few people, and that his agenda this month includes meetings with Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah, shows that the U.S. president wants to emphasize a change in the dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.By personally intervening in the crisis after years of neglect, Bush is setting a timetable and is increasing pressure on the two warring sides."

RUSSIA: "Roadless Map"

Alexander Reutov wrote in reformist business-oriented Kommersant (4/13): "Israel's Premier Ariel Sharon has completed his visit to the U.S.. For the first time in his capacity as the head of the Israeli government he was received informally by President George Bush at his Texas ranch. But that was about all the friendliness shown to the Israeli guest: George Bush and Ariel Sharon diverged on practically all the issues raised during the talks. This was Ariel Sharon's 11th trip to the U.S. in his capacity as Israel's prime minister. But it was the first time that the former Israeli general was accorded the rare honor of being entertained by U.S. President George Bush in an informal setting. Incidentally, Arab representatives, for instance, Crown Prince Abdulla of Saudi Arabia and King Abdulla II of Jordan have already visited the Crawford ranch in Texas. Ariel Sharon made it on the 11th try. The main topic of negotiations in Texas was the prospects for Palestinian-Israeli settlement.... Some observers have noted that the two leaders were not conversing or discussing the results of the talks but were delivering speeches to different audiences. In the opinion of experts, George Bush deliberately demonstrated his disagreement with the Israeli guest so that the Arab world, especially the Palestinians, should trust Washington more. Mr. Sharon for his part, faced with severe opposition to his plan for the Gaza Strip inside Israel, had to make friendly noises with regard to his enemies and argue the need to expand the settlements. Ariel Sharon tried to impress upon the Americans the complexity of his own position in the face of the threat of violence on the part of right-wing Jewish extremists... But his words fell on deaf ears. It looks as if the Israeli prime minister was invited to Crawford so that the informal atmosphere could smooth over the differences between him and George Bush."

"Sharon Springs An Unpleasant Surprise On Bush"

Yevgeny Bai, the Washington correspondent of reformist Izvestia, observed (4/13): "Perhaps the fate of the relations between Israel and Palestine will not be solved in America. In an interview to NBC, Sharon admitted that the situation in Israel is extremely tense.... An equally explosive situation is shaping up in the Palestinian Authority. New elections will be held there in July, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two groups the U.S. regard as terrorists, taking part. One can only guess what may happen if the extremists win the election. Bush also has to solve a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. He will host Crown Prince Abdulla of Saudi Arabia at his ranch on April 25. And a meeting in Washington with Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled for the following month. But the "march in support of democracy and freedom in the Middle East" touted by Bush may run into a wall of mutual hatred and intransigence of the two main participants in the peace process."

"Sharon Visit To U.S."

Ivan Groshkov and Gabriel Volfson wrote in the liberal Nezavisimaya Gazeta (4/11): "An official part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the United States is starting today. This time George Bush will meet with the prime minister in a calm atmosphere on his ranch in Texas. This is a very suitable environment for a discussion between the two leaders against the background of aggravating tension in the Middle East. Sharon's plan for disengagement with Palestinians, as well as the unstable peace having established after Yasser Arafat's death are in jeopardy now. In this context, the Israeli prime minister requires special support from the United States....It is very likely that Sharon will ask President Bush to put pressure on the head of the Palestinian authority Mahmoud Abbas to make sure that the latter would counteract terror more effectively. Another issue on the agenda is the initiative to delay the parliamentary election in Palestine, slated for July 17--three days before the dismantlement of Israeli settlements is to start.Hamas is likely to win the election, which would break plans for Israel's moving out of Gaza and would substantially weaken Abbas's position."

"Middle East Peace Process Nearly Gone"

Alexander Reutov opined in reformist Kommersant (4/11): "Current events in the Middle East are strikingly similar to the provocations staged in the fall of 2000. The parties have accused each other of purposefully escalating the conflict. The Palestinian side insists that under the pretext of aggravation, Israelis are looking to scrap plans to pull troops out of the Gaza Strip this summer.... There may be a different reason behind what is happening. The ruling Palestinian party Fatah is to elect its leaders this year.The younger generation believes that those leading the party have comfortably stayed there for too long, and they insist on changes. But Mahmoud Abbas's generation is reluctant to cede power. In this context, a Third Intifada looks like an ideal pretext for scrapping or at least delaying the election which is fraught with a crashing defeat for Fatah's veterans."

AUSTRIA: "Test Case"

Ernst Trost commented in mass-circulation tabloid Neue Kronenzeitung (4/12): "It is said that Sharon's most recent settlement plans are primarily designed to ensure the security of Jerusalem. This way, the fragile armistice is constantly being put to the test.The incidents and demonstrations of the last few days have fortunately not had major consequences. However, the Israelis do not trust Mahmoud Abbas when it comes to being able to keep the radical groups in check or even disarm them, and the Palestinians doubt that Sharon is serious. On the other hand, they are aware that only a bulldozer type such as the former general can overcome the right-wing camp's resistance against a peace solution.However, Bush will have a hard time in Texas to convince his friend Sharon to abandon the settlement project which provokes the Arabs."

BELGIUM: "Bush And Sharon Disagree"

Renee-Anne Gutter wrote in independent La Libre Belgique (4/12): "Theoretically, this eleventh meeting between Bush and Sharon was supposed to illustrate the United States' support for the Israeli withdrawal that is supposed to take place this summer and which President Bush called on the Palestinians to support as well.But since the beginning of his second mandate, George Bush has been actively pushing for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be solved. And it is now clear that President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon are increasingly divided. George Bush does not exert open pressure on Ariel Sharon yet in order not to torpedo the withdrawal of this summer. But, according to Israeli experts, George Bush will 'collect Ariel Sharon's debt' this fall....An invitation to the White House has also been extended to Mahmoud Abbas, but the latter has not set any date yet because he is afraid of coming to Washington with empty hands."

CROATIA: "Bush's Reprimand To Sharon"

Government-owned Vjesnik carried a commentary by Salih Konjhodzic that noted (4/13): "The White House will soon have to state its clear position on main sources of Middle Eastern crises, on the eve of the visit to Washington of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who has practically been ruling the largest 'oil kingdom' because of his one-year older brother King Faisal's illness.Even more so because there is a link between drastic increase of oil prices and Middle Eastern unrests, which have been devastatingly affected by the Anglo-American invasion against Iraq.Many Arab commentators have noted that Washington has thus become a hostage of the Israeli Middle Eastern policy.Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, will personally tell Bush this when he visits the U.S. in May, for the first time in the role of the President."

IRELAND: "Sharon And Bush"

The center-left Irish Times (4/13) editorialized:"President George Bush has pledged to oversee the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the next four years, as part of his campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East. This helps to explain the sharper tone he adopted at Monday's meeting with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in Texas. It seems to herald a U.S. willingness to intervene in the negotiations more actively and critically, following the election of a new Palestinian leadership and the reactivation of the international road map towards a peace settlement. Mr. Bush told Mr. Sharon that Israel should not 'undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations or prejudices final status negotiations', mentioning specifically the need to remove unauthorized outposts on the West Bank and meet its obligations regarding settlements there. The warning cuts across the assurances Mr. Sharon received this time last year, when Mr. Bush told him the U.S. does not expect Israel to withdraw from all the West Bank territory occupied after the Six Day War in 1967, including major Israeli population centers there, nor to accept the return of Palestinians who left or were expelled during Israel's war of independence. Mr. Sharon hoped this visit would bolster his position against radical right-wing critics of the planned withdrawal of 8,500 Israeli settlers from Gaza this summer, the better to hold on to the West Bank....Unless a stop is put to the creation of such Israeli facts on the ground there is no prospect of the negotiations succeeding over the next four years. But if U.S. pressure is not applied continuously and in concert with its international partners they are likely to continue. The Palestinians, too, have obligations to accept if progress is to be made, including reining in violent resistance and creating functioning and accountable political structures. But there must be reciprocity between the parties in coming months if serious negotiations are to begin. The meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon has been a useful exercise along this way, but all will depend on whether it can deliver a real process over coming months."

SPAIN: "The Comedy Of Errors "

Left-of-center El Pas declared (4/14):"What is Sharon's game if, as it seems, he continues obstructing negotiations by incessantly repopulating Cisjordania? Probably is it to win time, so that the formulation of a concrete territorial offer can be delayed, allowing larger realities to affect the field of the Israeli map and limit their retreat. Winning (time) before a possible normalization of the movement of people and merchandise between Israel and the occupied territories will let the Palestinians live better so that they will have something to loose if the Intifada breaks out again...as well as wearing out the Palestinian leaders, so that they will accept any minimal peace of that the right of Israel can offer. Until when will this comedy of the mistakes last? As long as Bush consents to it. While Washington considers that a low intensity conflict is preferable to a peace that doesn't suit Sharon, the movement of this big wheel will repeat without purpose or objective."

"On The Same Path"

Centrist La Vanguardia asserted (4/13):"...Bush and Sharon are, at the end, convinced that the retreat of Israeli settlers from Gaza and from some settlements in Cisjordania will cause such an earthquake that they will press negotiations towards the conclusion of a political agreement with the Palestinians. Because, in spite of the differences displayed at the Texas ranch, Bush and Sharon continue down the same road."

"At The Rancho Grande"

Conservative ABC opined (4/12):"The period of calm, the truce, the cease-fire, or whatever it is called, is hanging on rusty pins.Abbas has enemies at home.The enemy in Gaza, but also in Tel Aviv.He needs winks, gestures, back-slaps from the Israelis, not pinches or hindrances. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon stands out. His strategy is to sacrifice Gaza in exchange for the West Bank, Jerusalem, for a less viable Palestinian state. Only George Bush can make order of the Israeli's bullet-proof wardrobes. Will he want to do it?From the White House he couldn't, wouldn't, or didn't know how to. Maybe he will make up his mind at his ranch in Texas, in which Sharon, surely, talked to him about cows, stud bulls, fodders, walls, fences...and about occupied lands by settlers with intention of revenge and without intention to move themselves from there."

"Before The Road Map"

Left-of-center El Pas editorialized (4/12):"Bush might have thought that Palestinian and Israelis were working towards the Road Map....But when Israeli Prime Minister Sharon talked to the U.S. president at his Texas ranch, he made very clear that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have started to walk that way, and to do so, he demanded that the other party first maximize their measures against terrorism.... The key question is always the settlements, which in spite of the truce, were under fire from Hamas this weekend.... But the tone has relaxed a bit. Sharon will have to make some concessions from his large list of goals, such as halting part of the construction recently authorized to isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank. A needed wage and sign that negotiations will again be possible."

SWEDEN: "Bush And The Mideast Peace Process"

Conservative Stockholm-based Svenska Dagbladet opined (4/14): "The question whether the U.S. President, if needed, will be prepared to translate his criticism of the (Israeli) settlement policy into deeds, and thereby take up a definite position. The answer is very important to whether the U.S. will be regarded as a credible mediator, which will give President Bush the possibility to reach the goal; a Palestinian state with secure borders to Israel....The U.S. does not only hold a key role in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is wind of change blowing in the Mideast although its direction still is indistinct. Threats tower aloft but prospects have never been greater."

"Sharon Continues His Construction"

Independent, liberal Stockholm-based Dagens Nyheter's foreign editor, Per Ahlin, commented (4/13): "Not everyone is privileged to be received at President George W. Bush's ranch in Texas. This may be regarded as a 'reward' to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. President Bush wanted to show his support of the Israeli premier's decision to clear out settlements in Gaza, a decision that was both necessary and brave, and gives a gleam of hope for true Mideast peace negotiations....

"But Sharon is (by building the barrier) establishing a fact, and the justified question to ask is if he really is interested in the kind of solution that a peace process would involve.... That the U.S. holds a key role (in Mideast) is as true today as it ever was. But considering that the U.S. and the EU are pulling in the same direction in the Mideast, there are reasons for optimism. However, the question is, as always, what the two parties can and wish to do. Can Mahmoud Abbas balance the different demands that are raised from various quarters? And what is Sharon really building? Houses and barriers, say his critics. The peace process, say his defenders. Just imagine if the latter were right."

TURKEY: "The Middle East Lessons"

Cengiz Candar observed in conservative-sensational DB Tercuman (4/11): "The current meeting between PM Sharon and President Bush is very important and its results will directly affect the future course of the Israel-Palestine dispute.If the U.S. administration fails to be convincingly tough with Sharon, the Middle East could experience a very violent period again."

EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC

CHINA: "Sharon's Plan And Bush's Dilemma"

Su Bei commented in official popular Beijing Youth Daily (Beijing Qingnianbao) (4/11): "Sharon's visit to the U.S. holds the goal of gaining Bush's support on Israel's' recent unilateral military activities. Sharon's plan has put Bush in a dilemma: on the one hand, if the U.S. allows Sharon to continue to gain ground on this critical issue, the cease fire agreement could be jeopardized and Bush's image of peace promoter will be hurt; on the other hand, continued pressure on Israel may arouse dissatisfaction from U.S. domestic forces, and cause the indefinite delay of Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza strip.It is still unknown how much Bush will be able to persuade Sharon to return to the Road Map for peace."

JAPAN: "Roadmap Must be Upheld to Promote Peace Talks"

Business-oriented Nihon Keizai editorialized (4/13):"In his meeting with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon Monday, President Bush was correct in expressing strong concerns over the planned expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, since the U.S.-proposed 'roadmap' initiative calls for the complete suspension of Israeli settlements. We cannot accept Sharon's refusal to comply with Bush's request because his position tramples on the roadmap... Since the passing of Chairman Arafat last December, the roadmap initiative has been revived, with the move toward Middle East peace gaining impetus. The settlement issue must not be allowed to stop the trend. The Palestinians are also responsible for upholding the roadmap by swiftly dismantling armed guerrillas and restoring safety... The international community must also keep applying pressure on both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities so that they overcome their internal opposition and proceed with the roadmap."

"Peace Momentum Slipping Away"

Top-circulation, moderate Yomiuri observed (4/13):"Monday's summit between Bush and Sharon appears to have failed to narrow the gap over the issue of Israeli settlements, leaving the impression that peace momentum is slipping away.Bush's eagerness to broker Middle East peace, reflected in his decision to host Sharon at his private ranch in Crawford, was apparently dashed by the Israeli leader's firm position in support of expanding settlements."

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

CANADA: "Bush's Mideast Silence"

The liberal Toronto Star editorialized (4/14):"Sometimes, silence is golden. But not in Crawford, Texas, this week. U.S. President George Bush passed up a chance to be even-handed as he nudges Palestinians and Israelis down the rocky road to peace.... Sharon deserves well-earned credit for planning to pull all 8,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip this summer. But that still leaves 450,000 Israelis living on the West Bank or in parts of East Jerusalem. It would be good to know with some precision just where Washington stands on these communities.... Palestinians complain bitterly that Bush is turning a blind eye as Israel tightens its grip on the West Bank prior to the Gaza pullout. Judging from Bush's remarks this week, they may have reason for concern. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the U.S. next month, Bush intends to lobby him hard to suppress terror. But the road map also demands a freeze on settlements. It would have been good to hear Bush push that point with the same force."

"Ariel Sharon's Visit"

The leading Globe and Mail opined (4/13):"Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has emerged with what he wanted from his latest meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, this time at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas: another strong public show of support for Israel's planned pullout from Gaza. The fact that it came with a mild rebuke for his intended settlement expansion in the West Bank did not faze the old general. He expected that, too. This was, after all, a meeting designed to bolster Mr. Sharon's difficult position back home and help him carry out the unilateral withdrawal this summer of all Jewish settlers and soldiers from Gaza and from a handful of small West Bank settlements. It was not a showdown. But that may have to come later if Mr. Sharon proceeds with aggressive expansion plans for a key settlement. Mr. Bush had already accepted that Israel would retain some settlement blocs in the West Bank. His main goal is to get the U.S.-backed peace plan back on the rails, and he is counting on the Gaza withdrawal to do just that. Mr. Bush also realizes that Mr. Sharon's best hope of selling the Gaza strategy to a skeptical public and of defusing the risks posed by angry settlers and their hard-line backers lies in the promise to hold on to the large and much more strategically important West Bank settlements with or without a peace deal with the Palestinians. So the sparring between the two leaders was largely for show.... Mr. Bush repeated his commitment to a Palestinian state that is contiguous and viable. If he turns a blind eye to the new Israeli construction in the West Bank, that may not be possible."

"With Good Reason, Israel Is Risking A Mini Civil War"

Columnist Margaret Wente observed in the leading Globe and Mail (4/12): "...It's safe to say the Israeli leadership has very little confidence that Mr. Abbas can deliver. But, publicly, they have to give him time and support. They've got to do this in order to persuade George W. Bush to keep on backing their unilateral strategy, even though it contradicts the U.S.-sponsored road-map agreement for peace. That's what Ariel Sharon was doing yesterday in Texas. The road map's end game is two states. Mr. Sharon's end game is a fence that keeps as many Israelis as possible on one side, and as many Palestinians as possible on the other. If Mr. Sharon succeeds in Gaza, both end games will probably be closer."

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